Our impact, their voices

Capacity & connection: The power of women-centred networking

Through the ILO’s Rebuilding Better project, Malaysian entrepreneur Sofea has gained new skills, broadened her business perspectives, and found a community of support from like-minded women.

Feature | 03 April 2023

SEREMBAN, Malaysia (ILO News) – Sofea Homeopathy Centre is a small, women-owned business started in 2017 with the goal of providing complementary healthcare treatments that strengthen the immune system. The owner, 33-year-old Sofea Shater, is grounded in a passion for “benefitting humankind with a whole-systems approach to care”. What originally started in one room of a massage clinic has now become a business that serves hundreds of patients both in-person and online and employs administrative staff as well as additional practitioners.

Sofea Shater is a certified homeopath delivering services with the goal of encouraging the body to 'return to a natural state of balance and health'. © ILO

Impact of COVID-19

In 2020, Sofea’s business was just getting off the ground and was entering a growth-phase. When the pandemic began, she had to pause in-person operations due to lockdown requirements enforced by the government. At that time, she had a few staff members employed and was committed to making sure their salaries were still paid. As the business was still quite small, Sofea did not experience a significant downturn in profit due to COVID but instead feels that the experience forced her to think creatively about how to serve her patients during the lockdown. She began to explore online platforms in order to expand her customer base, which turned out to be a successful strategy. Throughout the pandemic, and moving forward, Sofea has continued to expand her online client base and finds that it does not limit the quality of care she can provide.

“During these challenging states, I did have small thoughts that maybe I should close down. But my aim was much bigger than this. I had to remember this is just a challenge and I can overcome.”

Sofea provides treatment both online and in-person to hundreds of patients. © ILO

Joining the WE Rebuild Better programme

Sofea found out about the WE Rebuilding Better programme through an ILO Rebuilding Better partner, the Women Entrepreneur Network of Malaysia (WENA), who encouraged her to apply. Sofea was excited about the opportunity and knew her business and leadership could benefit from the additional training in order to continue the growth trajectory.

The Business Continuity Planning sessions motivated and inspired Sofea to keep doing what she was doing and emphasised the importance of having effective systems in place to maintain stability. She also enjoyed the specific sessions on marketing, finances and digitalisation, finding them to be very practical and relevant.

Although she was already using online tools for her business prior to the programme, the ILO training encouraged and equipped Sofea to utilise them even further. She is now generating more popular content through social media platforms such as TikTok, in order to expand her client base. She is also integrating SEO techniques to boost her online presence and attract new customers.

“I now have the mindset of business legacy… even if there are challenges, I now think about how I will keep going and what the back-up plans will be.”

Sofea is committed to innovation and continuing her business through whatever obstacles may arise in the future. She is confident the lessons she has learned through the WE Rebuild Better programme will carry her business forward. She has recruited several additional full-time staff members to her team including administrative support and other homeopaths. She also enjoys working with junior practitioners who are still completing their studies, as she hopes they can learn from her experience.

Recent graduates from the WE Rebuild Better Programme Malaysia delivered in partnership with WENA. © ILO

Women-centred networking

Sofea’s favourite aspect of the ILO training was the peer sessions through which women entrepreneurs came together to share their experiences. She found that they were able to learn from each other’s past mistakes and practice problem-solving together.

“We could share in our challenges and gain new insights into how to overcome.”

She really enjoyed connecting with other women entrepreneurs in the programme and many have remained in touch since the programme ended. They all continue to share business resources such as webinar links, so they can continue to learn and grow. A few of the other participants were also interested in homeopathic treatments and have become potential clients.

Sofea believes human connection and relationships are more important to her business’ success than profit. Although the results are less tangible, the potential has no bounds. Additionally, the programme’s specific focus on women entrepreneurs resonated with Sofea, as she believes there is something unique and powerful about women-centred networking.

“Women-only groups are more interesting and authentic than traditional networking circles… the connections and support systems with women are stronger and I know they will last.”